I work on the Modern Slavery Helpline and this is what I hear

Posted by Unseen Team on the 19th September 2019 in

There was silence on the end of the line, and when the caller finally managed to speak, he stammered with nerves.

Calmly, gently, I repeated myself: ‘This is the Modern Slavery Helpline. How can I help?’

The story tumbled out. He’d been to visit a woman for sex that he’d found online. When he got to the address a man opened the door and took him to a room where a girl waited, huddled in a corner.

The site had said she was 22 but she looked much younger, seemed terrified, was covered in bruises and looked unhealthily skinny.

He had walked out, but now didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want to call the police himself but was prepared to give me the address and all the details confidentially and have me pass them on.

We worked quickly with the police, passing on key information, while protecting the caller’s identity. A young female was taken into police safeguarding and arrests were made.

As I put down the phone, my colleague handed me a cup of tea without me having to ask; they sensed it had been a difficult call.

This is what I do all day, answering the phones at the Modern Slavery Helpline, speaking to victims and members of the public to help get people out of situations of often horrific exploitation and abuse. The Helpline is open 24/7, 365 days a year, and available in over 200 languages.

It can be a tough job, but I get to go home knowing I’m helping save and turn around lives.

In less than three years since we launched we’ve indicated over 15,000 potential victims of modern slavery.

Not all of them were victims of sexual exploitation – that’s just one of the types of modern slavery we deal with, alongside others such as labour exploitation, domestic servitude and forced criminality.

Labour exploitation is actually the most common type, making up over half the cases reported. Men, women and children forced to work against their will, for little or no pay. In car washes, building sites, nail bars, restaurants and many more locations – modern slavery is literally happening in the midst of our society, seen but unseen.

One victim I spoke to, Raj*, was being forced to work in a corner shop – his ID had been taken from him and he could not make phone calls to his family. He was beaten and abused by his exploiter.

He saw members of the public every day but was too frightened to reach out to them.

Over a series of calls, I told him about his rights, about the services available to him as a survivor of modern slavery. One day he called urgently, saying he’d locked himself in a garage because his exploiter had just beaten him badly. We had the police there in half an hour and saved his life that day, and it was all because of the trust we had built up with him over many calls.

The demand on our service grows and grows.

We launched in October 2016, taking 40 calls a week – now it’s consistently over 150 and call volumes rise month on month. The National Crime Agency estimates there are tens of thousands of victims out there, so I can’t see the need for the Helpline decreasing anytime soon.

But all of this is at risk. Although we get more calls every month, the crucial funding we need to keep answering the phones has not been kept up.

That's why Unseen has launched an urgent appeal to raise the funds needed to save the Helpline.

It takes incredible courage for a victim to ring us, and they might get just the one chance. When they are able to make that call, there must be someone here to answer.